by Laura Yeager
diagnosed with severe bipolar illness in 1991.
I once wrote that if I could choose to come down with bipolar
illness again, I would because I like the way my life has unfolded
(with the disease.) In other words, if I didn't have bipolar
illness, I probably wouldn't have gotten married when I did and
probably wouldn't have married the same guy. And we probably
wouldn't have had to adopt, so I wouldn't have my current child. The
thing is I dearly love my husband and child.
This is not to say that bipolar illness is a wonderful experience.
It can be a bitch. For instance, I wouldnít wish the psychiatric
hospital on anyone, and the paranoia that sometimes comes with mania
isnít fun. But bipolar illness isn't a complete disadvantage, and
Bipolar illness actually has helped me as a writer.
The first way is that the disease has expanded my mind. We all know
that some writers and creative people in general have taken drugs or
alcohol to expand their consciousness, Jack Kerouac, Jack London, F.
Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Edgar Allen Poe and William
Faulkner Ė to name just a few. Kerouac once said, "As I grew older,
I became a drunk. Why? Because I like ecstasy of the mind."
The "good" thing is that I never had to take drugs to have my mind
expanded. My illness, particularly the psychosis that sometimes
comes with my mania, did it for me. I've gone beyond the edge of
reality and back. Once when I was "sick," I took a walk to a field
of flowers. I remember sitting down in the field and just looking at
the beautiful colors and smelling the beautiful petals. I actually
"entered" the colors pink and red and purple. I listened to the bees
buzzing. My reality was completely heightened. It was like an acid
trip without the acid. I truly believe that experiencing this
heightened reality has helped me as a fiction writer, for fiction is
nothing but expanded reality.
The second way is that the disease gives me periods of intense
productivity. When I'm manic, the ideas for stories and articles
continually pop into my head. Once I wrote ten pieces in one day.
The writing just flows out of me. I literally have to force myself
to stop, or I'll write all night long. And even while I try to
sleep, the ideas come and come. Whole paragraphs pop into my head.
For a writer, mania can be a great money-maker because of how much
the manic person can produce and sell when he's manic.
The third way is that the disease has made me a better human.
Bipolar illness takes a person from one emotional extreme to
another. One is completely elated for a time, and then, when one
least expects it, one is plunged into despair. I truly believe that
because of this, in addition to one's mind being expanded, one's
humanity is expanded as well. Since I became bipolar I've become
extremely empathetic to a population of people I might have
overlookedóthe disabled. This is because I'm now disabled. In a
profound way. In fact, I'm more empathetic to all marginalized
folks. I've become more human.
The final way the disease has helped me as a writer is that this
illness has given me a niche to write about. Since Iíve come down
with bipolar, Iíve written and published two short stories and over
a dozen articles about it. One of the bipolar stories was an O.
Henry Short Story semi-finalist piece in 2000. Jane Smiley, one of
my former teachers, told me that I was lucky to have a personal
subject about which to write.
This is not to say that "coming out" to the world about my personal
disease has been easy. It hasnít. Iíve chosen to reveal very
personal details about my life in the hope that I can help others to
live with their disease(s). Last year, I wrote a blog for
empowher.com. I think people liked it because I got much positive
feedback about my blog entries. People were learning from me and my
So you see, bipolar illness, although sometimes an absolutely
horrible thing, isnít a complete disadvantage.
Itís all how you look and think about it. Iíve decided to make
lemonade out of the proverbial lemons.
And I believe that my writing and I are much better for it.